Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting your room ready

From the Apple

At my school many teachers have been working for several weeks over the summer to get their rooms ready and some of them are ready to go on the very first day of pre-planning! They do that because they know that the first week is filled with meetings and they don't want to be stressed getting everything ready. I am lucky enough to teach with my daughter-in-law, Randi, and she takes the summer as her time to spend with her family so she comes to her room on that first day of pre-planning and then works 24/7 to make sure she is ready. I'm probably the "go early" type, but I have learned from Randi that you really can do it in the time allotted. Knowing that helped me know that Courtney would have enough time too. I called to let her know she could put $100 on my credit card to begin to get things I knew she needed. After all, she, like so many first year teachers, has not been paid yet and she really didn't have any extra money to buy material to cover her bulletin boards (it doesn't fade) and bulletin board border or to buy any of the other things she needed. When Courtney called after she had seen her room, she was excited but a little worried about how sparse everything was. She wanted some ideas for how to decorate her room. I asked Courtney if she could Skype me from her room so I could see her space, but she wasn't sure if Skype was unblocked. Then I suggested that she take some pictures of the room and e-mail them to me until she reminded me that her camera had been stolen. So I decided to take pictures at my school to give her some ideas. Even after looking at all the ideas, she decided on a beach theme for her room.

The weekend after pre-planning I made a trip to Courtney's school. I didn't need to worry because even though I had the car packed with stuff for her, she already had things ready to go. Over the years she's spent lots of time in my classroom putting up bulletin boards, cutting shapes and letters, but now she was on her own and as I looked around - I realized she was doing quite well - without my help!

Of course, the truth of the matter is that your room looking well only gets you so far because on Monday morning it comes down to how well you relate to the children that will cross that threshold. but for now - courtney's room looks just fine!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The wait is on....

From the Star
My internship ended. Summer started. I was so excited. It was finally time to start looking for a real job... or so I thought. I turned in lots of resumes and just chilled - lived the life of not working while waiting for one of the schools to call me and offer me a job! Of course, "living the life" is very short lived when you run out of money. Little did I know that seven schools in my county had closed and they had to place the 200 teachers who had lost their jobs before they could consider new hires for interviews. Lucky me! I just happened to be one of those new hires. Not only were they placing all those teachers first but there had been so many budget cuts that no teachers were leaving and the jobs just weren’t opening. I was devastated, stressed and on the verge of being a crazy lady. I’m pretty sure that I called my mom every day and asked, "So what am I supposed to do now? I have applied for every job imaginable and No ONE IS CALLING ME." My mom, of course, the calm lady just said, “Relax - it'll all work out.” And I kept saying, “Yeah sure. Whatever you say, but you’re not going to be happy when you are still supporting me!” and she would just repeat “It will all work out.”
As the days went by and still no calls I started to get desperate I started to apply for jobs that I didn’t really want and jobs that were over an hour drive. Finally an interview came and I nailed it (with all the good advice of my mother) and I got the job. This is when everything got super stressful. Not only was this job an hour away from my house but, I was not sure that I could handle this as my first teaching assignment - not to mention, my dad is saying, "TAKE THE JOB!" and my boyfriend is saying, "TAKE THE JOB!" My mom was saying that the job was not a good first year job because there was not enough support. I felt like one of those cartoon characters where the devil is on one side and the angel is on the other side and you’re suppose to make a choice that could change your life forever. I was so undecided so I took a night to think about it and I prayed. I prayed that I would wake up and know exactly what to do. Sure enough that is exactly what happened. I woke up and knew that the job was not the right fit for me. To my amazement the next day I got two calls for interviews - with only 2 days before teachers were supposed to start. Just imagine how I was feeling!

My first interview that next day was at 8:00am. I woke up, felt confident and walked into the interview. The Principal and Vice Principal that were interviewing me were delightful and gave me the chance to really be myself. I had not felt this way in any other interviews. Before I had felt more like I was a college student in a Master’s Comprehension exam being quizzed on everything that I had ever learned. I don’t know about you, but for me, it is kind of hard to be myself when I feel like I am under pressure and about to throw up. But at this interview I knew that this was where I wanted to be. I loved the Principals and I loved the school, so I didn’t even care about what grade I was teaching. As I left I was pretty confident that I had gotten the job and I was so deliriously happy! That afternoon I got a call telling me that I had the job. I even forgot to ask what grade I was teaching. This is where the stress of getting a job ended and the journey of being a teacher began.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A job - a job - when will she get a job?

From the Apple
Like many states, the job market in Florida is very tight. At my own school where we usually are interviewing all summer long, we have had very few interviews. Nobody is leaving in this difficult economy and so nobody is hiring. Courtney is beginning to panic as summer draws to an end. Who am I kidding? My husband is also in a panic. I keep telling them both that it will all work out - there's always shifting at the very end.

After interviewing hundreds of prospective teachers, this has been my advice to Courtney:
  • Dress professionally - even if you are just dropping off a resume. A nice dress will do with heels. No cleavage, not to short.
  • The Secretary often gets you in the door so always be especially pleasant to the person at the front counter.
  • Don't just send your resume. Drop it off, if you can, so they can put a face with a resume.
  • Do your homework. Look the school up on the Internet and find out as much as you can so when the Principal says, "Why do you want to work here?" you can say something besides, "...because your school is so close to where I live," even if it's true!
  • Be honest if they ask you about something you don't know, but make sure they know that you are a learner and would be willing to learn.
  • Be yourself. While you may really want the job, you also want them to know what they are getting so the job ends up being the right fit for you and for them.
  • After the interview, always send an e-mail thanking the principal for the opportunity to meet her and any of her staff. Principals talk and even though she might not hire you, she just might recommend you to one of her friends.

Courtney only had an opportunity to interview for a couple of jobs that came open. She was offered a job after her first interview. It was a self-contained classroom for K-5 children (quite a range!) who are behavior disordered. The class had had 4 teachers in 3 years and the only support was the Principal who was about to go on maternity leave! The Principal actually kept Courtney for almost two hours in the interview- I'm sure trying to figure out if she could trust this job to a new teacher. At the time it was the only offer that Courtney had. My advice was that she turn the job down. It was not the job itself - Courtney has a Masters in Special Education - but it was the lack of support. Actually in a situations where she had sufficient support, it could have been the perfect learning opportunity, but without support, it just was not a first year teacher job. Courtney really stressed at telling the Principal no. Her father really stressed at the idea that she might be turning down her only chance for a paycheck and that we would be supporting her for another year! But... it was the right thing to do for her and for the children in that class.

Finally, with only a few days before school started Courtney had the perfect interview. She was so excited and bubbly. "This school is PERFECT! It's just like Chets Creek (my school)! I REALLY want this job!" She called later in the afternoon to tell me the Principal had called to offer her a job! I could hardly get a word in - Courtney talks a lot in a normal situation and she was absolutely giddy! When she finally took a breath I asked, "So what grade will you be teaching?" She stopped short - "Oh no, I forgot to ask!"

I was sure they would have hired Courtney for a primary position looking at her resume, but when she called the following day, she said she was teaching 3-4-5. "Are you sure?" I said. "I'm sure," she said in that happy, life-is-wonderful sort of way. I didn't have the heart to tell her about the FCAT and the load she had just taken on her shoulders - save that for another day. Right now, we'll just bask in the THRILL of a new job!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Anything but a teacher!

From the Star
Like many 18 year olds going off to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was still thinking about how exciting it was with no adults and no rules. Little did I know that I would soon be making decisions that would change my life and would effect who I am today. I can still remember my University Experiences class where we were told to choose what we wanted to be. I had so many choices and so many dreams about what I wanted to be when I graduated. It was so exciting to dream about my future and its possibilities. I thought maybe I'd like to be a bakery chef or an interior designer. I called my mother who is also my "best friend" - my BFF - and she pointed out that my choices might not be too logical. After all, I wasn't a very good cook and I couldn't even keep my own room clean!

As my mother started talking about why she became a teacher and how much pride she took in her job, I thought that maybe I might like to be a teacher. I like to help people. I am very talkative. I am very friendly. I decided that maybe being a teacher wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. I mean I really liked helping in my mom's classroom when I was in elementary school. I decide to try a few education courses and realized that this was definitely what I wanted to be. I felt at home. I loved it!

My Mom still kids me about that Phonics class. I really did think it was torture and I really didn't think I was ever going to use it. I was taking 17 hours at the time and the workload for that one class was like I was only taking that class! Little did I know at the time that that class would be the basis of my teaching career. I guess my mom was right (she usually is, but I just don't like to admit it!) The course turned out to be a great experience, even after all my tears, headaches and whining. By the end of the semester I understood phonics and how important it is to reading.

When I graduated I knew that I had learned so much but I also knew there was so much more to learn. I was not only excited but I was ready to take on the task of following in my mother's footsteps. I finally understood what she meant when she said she just "wanted to make a difference."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let's start at the very beginning...

From the Apple
Nothing could have surprised me more than when Courtney came home from college to tell me she wanted to be a teacher! When she left for college as a self-confident in-charge-of-the-world 18 year old, she looked at me and said, "I don't know what I'm going to be, but I certainly am not going to teach! You guys don't make any money!" Both her father and I are teachers and she was right! So when she came home and told me that she was going to major in education, I actually tried to talk her out of it. "Remember all those long hours that I work and how little I always got paid?" "Yea, but remember those summers we had together and how much you have always loved what you do and how much joy you've always gotten from your students." She was right. There has never been a day when I haven't wanted to go to school. I have loved walking into my classroom each year. Teaching has been one of my great joys. It has been my life's calling - my life's mission. Why wouldn't I want that for my daughter?

From that day on I have enjoyed every minute of thinking about Courtney - the teacher. I have loved as she has talked about her courses and her students as she interned. I remember when she called me once to tell me about this really "stupid" course she was taking called Phonics. "What in the world will I ever do with THAT?" she lamented. "I HATE taking courses I will NEVER use" - always the drama queen! Oh dear!

One of my proudest moments was the day that Courtney graduated from Florida State University. There she was in her cap and gown - with colors of her Masters degree streaming down her back. Was she ready? She certainly thought she was - Courtney has never lacked in self-confidence! Maybe the better question - Was I ready? Was I ready to embrace her as an equal, as a teacher, as a mentor, as a friend? On Graduation Day our journey together - as teachers - began. Welcome to this peek as we travel this road together - mentor and newbie - mother and daughter.